East End Community Heritage School

In 2000, the East End Community Heritage School, a charter school, opened with 186 students and a promise to better educate children with Appalachian roots and keep them in school to graduation.

In fact, its contract said 85 percent of students would pass Ohio proficiency tests within three years, a rate to rival top suburban schools...

Three years later, it was in Academic Emergency. Its achievement was so low by 2006 that CPS dropped out as sponsor. By 2010 - with 99 students - it was put on a "watch list" by the state.

Last week, the state named it one of 15 charter schools that must raise its scores or close by 2013.

How could such poor performance go on for so long?

Incredibly, the school may have survived because of its lack of success.

The state says charters must close if they've been in academic emergency for at least two of the three most recent years. But if schools have fewer than 10 students in a grade, the state doesn't include their composite scores on the state report card - or give the school a ranking.

That's what happened to EECHS in 2009 and 2010.

Even though it was in Academic Emergency in 2007 and 2008, the school managed to stay open apparently because it drew so few children, despite more than a decade of poor results...

The most expensive part is that for 11 years taxpayers have poured money into a school that performed worse than the public schools it was created to help "reform." Every other CPS school in Bond Hill, where the school relocated in 2006, has a higher state ranking.

Meanwhile, the school at one point was more than $300,000 in debt, which it has whittled down to $80,000 now...

In 2009, as EECHS hit other milestones of having the lowest percentage of highly qualified teachers in the region and a 10 percent graduation rate, an Ohio Department of Education spokesman assured taxpayers, "We're not going to continue pumping money into failing charters. If we can see the writing on the wall ... (we try) to stop the bleeding and give those students an option of going somewhere else."

But EECHS bled on...

But EECHS's story is not over, and it would be an oversight not to point out that the school - finally - might face its best chance for success.

Former CPS superintendent Michael Brandt, hired by the school's board of directors as a consultant, is overseeing a major overhaul of the curriculum, staff and daily operations at the school and has brought in former Hillcrest Training School Superintendent William Hamilton as principal.

They've replaced more than half the staff, increased the school day to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., introduced a new college-readiness curriculum, and won a $360,000 state improvement grant and $61,000 Race to the Top federal grant for improvement.

The turnaround would be good news, but 11 years overdue...

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